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An Analysis of the Concerto for bassoon and orchestra by Nino Rota

by

Joseph Michael Kluesener

A Research Paper Presented in Partial Fulfillment


of the Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Musical Arts

Approved November 2011 by the


Graduate Supervisory Committee:

Albie Micklich, Chair


Gary Hill
Benjamin Levy
Timothy Russell
Martin Schuring

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

December 2012
ABSTRACT

Nino Rota was a prolific composer of twentieth-century film and concert

music, including the Concerto for bassoon and orchestra in b-flat major.

Composing over 150 film scores for directors such as Federico Fellini, Francis

Ford Coppola, Henry Cass, King Vidor and Franco Zeffirelli, Rota received

distinguished acclaim from several film institutions, professional film reviewers

and film music experts for his contributions to the art form. Rota also composed a

great deal of diverse repertoire for the concert stage (ballet, opera, incidental

music, concerti, symphonies, as well as several chamber works).

The purpose of this analysis is to emphasize the expressive charm and

accessibility of his concerto in the bassoon repertoire. The matter of this analysis

of the Concerto for bassoon and orchestra concentrates on a single concerto from

his concert repertoire completed in 1977, two years before Rota’s death. The

discussion includes a brief introduction to Nino Rota and his accomplishments as

a musician and film composer, and a detailed outline of the motivic and structural

events of contained in each movement of the concerto. The shape of the work is

analyzed both in detailed discussion and by the use of charts, including reduced

score figures of excerpts of the piece, which illustrate significant thematic events

and relationships.

The analysis reveals how Rota uses lyrical thematic material in a

consistently, and he develops the music by creating melodic sequences and varied

repetitions of thematic material. He is comfortable writing several forms, as

indicated by the first movement, Toccata – a sonata-type form; the second

ii
movement, Recitativo, opening with a cadenza and followed by a theme and brief

development; and the third movement, a theme (Andantino) and set of six

variations. Rota’s writing also includes contrapuntal techniques such as imitation,

inversion, retrograde and augmentation, all creating expressive interest during

thematic development.

It is clear from the discussion that Rota is an accomplished, well-studied

and lyrical composer. This analysis will inform the bassoonist and conductor, and

aid in developing a fondness for the Concerto for bassoon and orchestra and

perhaps other concert works.

iii
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Page
LIST OF CHARTS..................................................................................................v

LIST OF FIGURES................................................................................................vi

SECTION I..............................................................................................................1

Introduction..................................................................................................1

Biography.....................................................................................................3

The Film Music of Nino Rota......................................................................6

SECTION II: An Analysis of the Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra...............15

Movement I: Toccata.................................................................................17

Movement II: Recitativo............................................................................33

Movement III: Andantino [Theme & Variations I-VI]..............................41

CONCLUSION......................................................................................................61

BIBLIOGRAPHY..................................................................................................62

APPENDIX A: LETTER OF COPYRIGHT PERMISSION ...............................65

iv
LIST OF CHARTS

CHART Page

Movement I: Thematic Areas and Tonal Centers Chart............................17

Movement II: Sections, Events and Tonal Centers Chart..........................32

Movement III: Theme/Variation Events and Tonal Centers Chart............39

Movement III: Theme/Variations Events and Tonal Centers Chart


Continued...................................................................................................40

v
LIST OF FIGURES

FIGURE Page

Figure 1......................................................................................................21

Figure 2......................................................................................................22

Figure 3......................................................................................................23

Figure 4......................................................................................................24

Figure 5......................................................................................................26

Figure 6......................................................................................................28

Figure 7......................................................................................................30

Figure 8......................................................................................................31

Figure 9......................................................................................................35

Figure 10a..................................................................................................37

Figure 10b..................................................................................................37

Figure 11....................................................................................................38

Figure 12a..................................................................................................42

Figure 12b..................................................................................................43

Figure 13a..................................................................................................45

Figure 13b..................................................................................................46

Figure 14....................................................................................................47

Figure 15....................................................................................................49

Figure 16....................................................................................................51

Figure 17a..................................................................................................53

vi
Figure 17b..................................................................................................54

Figure 18a..................................................................................................55

Figure 18b..................................................................................................56

Figure 18c..................................................................................................58

Figure 18d..................................................................................................59

Figure 18e..................................................................................................60

vii
SECTION ONE

Introduction

What do the films The White Sheik, The Godfather I and II and The

Orchestra Rehearsal have in common? They are all award-winning, well-

grossing films with scores written by Nino Rota, a composer who is arguably a

household name in Italian culture. Despite his acclaim for writing over 150 film

scores, Rota (1911-1979) is a composer whose music is infrequently performed in

most American concert halls. His films were made under a collection of

outstanding film directors – mostly Italian. Directors such as Henry Cass who

directed The Glass Mountain (1950), Franco Zeffirelli, who directed The Taming

of the Shrew (1966), King Vidor who directed War and Peace (1956), and most

notably, Rota’s 30-year relationship with directing great, Federico Fellini.

Understandably, Nino Rota’s film career has overshadowed a great deal of his

concert music legacy. But there is concern to preserve his contributions, both in

film and art music, as seen to by the work of the Giorgio Cini Foundation:

The Giorgio Cini Foundation’s mission is to promote the redevelopment


of the monumental complex on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore and
encourage the creation and development of educational, social, cultural
and artistic institutions in its surrounding territory.1

Many of Rota’s manuscripts and other artifacts are among the precious

acquisitions seen to and protected by the Giorgio Cini Foundation.

The purpose of this analysis is to present and examine the thematic

material in Nino Rota’s Concerto for bassoon and orchestra (1974-1977). The

1
“Foundation.” Fondazione Giorgio Cini. Venice, Italy. http://www.cini.it/en/foundation
(accessed November 1, 2011)
1
emphasis and exposure of this music and its charming, audience-friendly themes

is meant to encourage bassoonists and conductors to pursue its performance.

Nino Rota began the concerto as a single Toccata movement for solo bassoon and

orchestra in 1974, and shortly thereafter completed the score in 1977, which made

it part of a series of instrumental concerto works with orchestral accompaniment

in his repertoire (including concertos for horn, trombone, harp, cello and piano).2

Rota’s output extends beyond concerto forms, however, and includes mixed

chamber music, choral works, opera and operetta, ballet, and as one might expect

orchestral suites of his film scores.3

2
Grove Music Online, s.v. “Rota, Nino,” http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/
article/grove/music/23924 (accessed October 31, 2011).
3
Ibid.
2
Biography

As indicated by his website and several other sources, Nino Rota

(Giovanni Rota Rinaldi) was born to a musical lineage in December of 1911 in

Milan, Italy. Rota’s mother, Ernesta Rinaldi, was a pianist and her father was the

famous pianist and composer, Giovanni Rinaldi. This may aid in explaining

Rota’s reported child prodigy status as a young musician and composer.4 His first

works were composed and performed when he was an adolescent, but his more

professional and significant contributions appear later in life, after Rota pursued

study.5

Rota’s first teacher, Giacomo Orefice, also made significant contributions

to bassoon literature (a book of 20 Melodious Etudes). Later Rota studied with

the famous Alfredo Casella, where he earned a diploma at the Conservatorio di

Santa Cecilia in Rome. After completing this work, Rota was invited to the Curtis

Institute in Philadelphia at age 20, where he studied composition with Rosario

Scalero, music history with Johann Beck and conducting with Fritz Reiner.6

There he was blessed with the influence and friendship of Aaron Copland, who

introduced him to the music of George Gershwin and American popular song and

cinema – of which all of these elements “grafted on to [Rota’s] passion for Italian

4
Laurence E. MacDonald, The Invisible Art of Film Music (New York: Ardsley House
Publishers, Inc., 1998), 236.
5
Grove Music Online, s.v. “Rota, Nino,” http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/
article/grove/music/23924 (accessed October 31, 2011).
6
Laurence E. MacDonald, The Invisible Art of Film Music (New York: Ardsley House
Publishers, Inc., 1998), 237.
3
popular song and operetta.”7 Rota felt at home using American styles such as the

Negro Spiritual, as done expertly in the film, Senza pietà (Without pity), with a

variety of representations of songs such as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless

Child,” “All God’s Chillun Gotta Row (to Get to Heaven),” “Nobody Knows De

Trouble I Seen,” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot (coming for to carry me

home).”8

After studying in America, Rota’s return to Italy revealed an interesting

cultural dynamic in which to compose. The Fascist regime under Benito

Mussolini inspired a war-torn set of factions in art – those of a “traditional”

adherence, and those of an “innovative” persuasion. Giordana Montecchi offers

that Rota’s music presented original characteristics during this time: “This made

Rota’s idiom exceptionally and uninhibitedly responsive to the widest variety of

influences, supported, as it was, by a masterly technique, an elegant manner and a

capacity for stylistic assimilation.”9

In 1937, Rota established himself professionally in teaching positions,

teaching harmony and composition, and later directing the Bari Conservatory for

most of his life. While he taught, his efforts in the film industry – particularly

following World War II – grew to a point of critical acclaim. Some found his

7
Grove Music Online, s.v. “Rota, Nino,” http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/
article/grove/music/23924 (accessed October 31, 2011).
8
Richard Dyer, “Music, people and reality: the case of Italian neo-realism,” in European Film
Music, ed. Miguel Mera and David Burnand (Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited,
2006), 38.
9
Grove Music Online, s.v. “Rota, Nino,” http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/
article/grove/music/23924 (accessed October 31, 2011).
4
work in the cinema to be “anachronistic,”10 while others maintain it serves as

some of the best examples of the film music medium. Mark Evans, in

Soundtrack: The Music of the Movies, emphasizes Rota’s popular hit from Romeo

and Juliet (1968): “Rota was an unlikely choice for wide commercial acclaim in

an era of electric guitars. Nonetheless, his theme song from Zeffirelli’s Romeo

and Juliet became an enormous commercial success...”11 Rota’s overall output is

evidence of this impact, with 157 film scores to his credit. Many scores were

written for some of the best-known directors in the business, including Henry

Cass, Franco Zeffirelli, Francis Ford Coppola and Federico Fellini. This work

gained Rota popularity in film culture enough to gain comparisons to Ennio

Morricone, Arnold Bax, Miklos Rozsa, Virgil Thomson and Malcolm Arnold,12

and presented him and his colleague film-makers many awards from the Academy

of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and other film institutions.13 Rota attracted a

great deal of attention from his work in film scoring, including substantial sales of

film score recordings.

10
Grove Music Online, s.v. “Rota, Nino,” http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/
article/grove/music/23924 (accessed October 31, 2011).
11
Mark Evans, Soundtrack: The Music of the Movies, (New York: Hopkinson and Blake,
Publishers, 1975), 167.
12
Roger Manvell and John Huntley, The Technique of Film Music, (London: Focal Press,
1975), 219-234.
13
Mark Evans, Soundtrack: The Music of the Movies, (New York: Hopkinson and Blake,
Publishers, 1975), 204.
5
The Film Music of Nino Rota

Much criticism and acclaim of Rota focuses on the fact that “Rota's

compositions are noteworthy for their melodious appeal.” Rota seems to surprise

his critics despite certain trends that affect the field. For example the film Romeo

and Juliet (1968), starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, with Franco

Zeffirelli, director, possesses a melancholy solo guitar theme presented later in the

style of a Renaissance dance. Laurence MacDonald writes about Zeffirelli’s

Romeo and Juliet, saying that:

Its popularity led to Capital [Records] to take the unprecedented step of


releasing a four-record set of the film’s entire vocal and music tracks. In
1970, due to popular demand, a single-disc album of Rota’s score was
released. Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is unique in that no other
Shakespearean film has ever spawned such a record-buying frenzy.14

And more praise regarding the success of Romeo and Juliet:

His music has an offbeat quality, sometimes with familiar musical forms
treated in a personal, unconventional manner. He could be extremely
lyrical, so much so that his themes for Romeo and Juliet and The
Godfather became top-selling records internationally.15

Paul Kresh, in a modern critique of 1970s movie music culture, assembles

an impressive roster of film scores, including among others: Citizen Kane by

Bernard Herrmann, The Red Pony by Aaron Copland, On the Waterfront by

Leonard Bernstein and La Dolce Vita and Juliet of the Spirits by Nino Rota.

Prefacing this list, Kresh notes, “What Emily and I remember from movies is

14
Laurence E. MacDonald, The Invisible Art of Film Music (New York: Ardsley House
Publishers, Inc., 1998), 215-216.
15
Fred Karlin, Listening to Movies: The Film Lover’s Guide to Film Music, (New York:
Schirmer Books, 1994), 298.
6
music not at its catchiest or most tuneful, but the effect of music in the right

place.” Though this resource is limited in scope due to its age, it is an accurate

glimpse at a contemporary film critic of Nino Rota, and that this film critic found

Rota’s music to be poignant and enhance the film experience. Kresh continues,

“Movie music is at its best when it is written for the purpose for which it is

played, knows it[s] place, and does not just drone on monotonously in order not to

be heard.”16

Another contemporary of Rota publishes criticism in Volume 6, No. 5 of

Film Monthly Review from February of 1948. Speaking in particular of a “simple

tune,” Hans Keller writes critically regarding Rota’s work in the post-World War

II film, To Live in Peace:

A lot of noise has [justifiably] been made about Vivere in pace (To Live in
Peace), but Nino Rota’s music isn’t up to the film. It again laudably
strives for simplicity, but only partly succeeds. That simpleton of a
bassoon tune, for instance, gets on your nerves by the second time you
hear it.17

The ‘noise’ to which Keller refers likely regards issues associated with the Fascist

divisions in the community of arts in post-World War II Italy. Italian cinema

adopted a new style at this time, producing films intended for the people,

reflecting their personal lives and the day-to-day events that make them who they

are. Dyer uses films with Nino Rota’s scores as examples of diegetic and non-

diegetic music supporting the neo-realist ambition, by connecting diegetic sounds

16
Paul Kresh, “Is There Any Music at the Movies?” in Film Music: From Violins to Videos, ed.
James L. Limbacher (Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1974), 32-42.
17
Hans Keller, “The Simple Tune,” in Film Music and Beyond: Writings on Music and the
Screen, 1946-59, ed. Christopher Wintle (London: Plumbago Books, 2006), 71-74.
7
to his non-diegetic score.18 (Diegetic and non-diegetic music and sound exist

simultaneously in most film. The terms define two different sound sources.

Diegetic music is music that belongs to the subjects of the film, created through

playing instruments, singing songs, watching TVs, listening to radios, etc., and

diegetic sound comes from automobile engines revving, train tracks rattling, and

crowds at sporting events. Non-diegetic music is added by the film soundtrack,

and sound effects, narration and commentary are considered non-diegetic sounds.)

According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

(AMPAS), the body responsible for the Academy Awards where Oscars are

presented for significant achievements in the recent year’s films. According to

the AMPAS, an original score is a substantial body of music in the form of

dramatic underscoring originating with the submitting composer(s).19 In 1972,

Francis Ford Coppola hired Nino Rota to compose the score for a film based on

the recently completed novel by Mario Puzo, The Godfather. Rota’s score

contained portions penned by Coppola’s father, Carmine Coppola, but he also

shared that music in the score to The Godfather was recycled from another film,

La fortunella (1957).

A group of anonymous Italian composers sent a telegram to the AMPAS

Music Branch chairman who presented an Oscar executive with the concern that

the Godfather film and Rota’s score were so popular, they would likely win, and

18
Richard Dyer, “Music, people and reality: the case of Italian neo-realism,” in European Film
Music, ed. Miguel Mera and David Burnand (Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited,
2006), 30-38.
19
Fred Karlin, Listening to Movies: The Film Lover’s Guide to Film Music, (New York:
Schirmer Books, 1994), 208.
8
that this accusation “caused quite a disturbance.” Despite the arguments favoring

the inclusion of Rota’s score, the AMPAS Music Branch rejected it as an original

submission because of the quality, not quantity, the music portrayed. This implies

that Rota’s score left the most meaningful and memorable impact on the viewer of

any music in the film, and they would not let his writings stand in competition.

So, since that material was, to their current terms, unoriginal, the film score was

not nominated at that time.20

As one can see, there are many criticisms and comments regarding Nino

Rota’s music in film. “In film music he used his eclectic inclinations and treated

the boundaries of the film medium as a challenge, so producing some of the finest

music of the genre.”21 Consequently, an important piece among Rota’s concert

repertoire features the bassoon (far removed from the ‘simpleton bassoon’ of

1940s Hans Keller). What follows in Section II is a discussion of the thematic

material found in Rota’s Concerto for bassoon and orchestra, revealing his

method for composing the piece and placing an emphasis on this piece of

concerto repertoire for the bassoon.

20
Fred Karlin, Listening to Movies: The Film Lover’s Guide to Film Music, (New York:
Schirmer Books, 1994), 210-211.
21
Grove Music Online, s.v. “Rota, Nino,” http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/
article/grove/music/23924 (accessed October 31, 2011).
9
The Concert Music of Nino Rota

The goal of the present analysis is to expose Nino Rota to American

researchers and performers so that his compositions, while appreciated for their

relevance and impact from film, should be more appreciated for their expressive

qualities, and shared in concert halls. As previously indicated, Rota’s output

includes concertos, mixed chamber music, choral works, opera and operetta, and

ballet.22 What follows by title is a list of completed operas, ballet and incidental

music, and completed instrumental works for large- and small-scale ensembles.

These works have been performed publicly (unpublished and incomplete works

are omitted).23 Other than opera, Rota has completed over 50 vocal and choral

works for orchestra with voice, voice and piano, and solo voice (many of which

are also unpublished).24

Opera

Il principe porcaro (1925-6)


Ariodante (1938-41)
Torquemada (1943)
Il cappello di paglia di Firenze (1945-55)
Scuola di guida (1959)
La notte di un nevrastenico (1959)
Lo scoiattolo in gamba (1959)
Aladino e la lampada magica (1963-5)
La visita meravigliosa (1965-9)

22
Grove Music Online, s.v. “Rota, Nino,” http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/
article/grove/music/23924 (accessed October 31, 2011).
23
Ibid. (accessed March 1, 2012).
24
Ibid. (accessed March 1, 2012).
10
Napoli milionara (1973-7)

Ballet and Incidental Music

Rappresentazione di Adamo ed Eva (1957)


Fantasia tricromatica. Balletto sulla musica delle “Variazioni sopra un tema
gioviale” (1953, 1961)
La strada (1966)
Aci e Galatea (1971)
Le Molière imaginaire (1976)
Dichterliebe—Amore di Poeta (1978)
L’isola dei pappagalli. Con Bonaventura prigioniero degli antropofagi (1936)
Il suo cavallo (1944)
L’Impresario delle Smirne (1957)
Veglia la mia casa (1958)
Romeo and Juliet (1960)
L’Arialda (1960)
Dommage qu’elle soit une p... (1961)
Much Ado About Nothing (1965)
Il giornalino di Gian Burrasca (1965)
La dodicesima notte (1979)

Large-scale Instrumental Music (Symphonies, Concerto and other forms)

Symphony no. 1 in g major (1935-9)


Symphony no. 2 in f major (1937-41)
Symphony no. 3 in c major (1956-7)
Concerto for violoncello and orchestra (1925)
Concerto for harp and orchestra (1947)
Concerto for orchestra “Festivo” (1958-61)
Concerto in C major for piano and orchestra (1959-1962)

11
Concerto ‘Soirée’ for piano and orchestra (1961-2)
Concerto for strings (1964-5, rev. 1977)
Concerto for trombone and orchestra (1966)
Concerto for violoncello and orchestra No. 1 (1972)
Concerto for violoncello and orchestra No. 2 (1973)
Concerto for bassoon and orchestra (1974-7)
Concerto for horn and orchestra “Piccolo mondo antico” (1978)
Fuga (1923)
Serenata per orchestra in quattro tempi (1931-2)
Balli (1932)
Sinfonia sopra una canzone d’amore (1947-1972)
Variazioni e fuga nei 12 toni sul nome di Bach (1950)
Variazioni sopra un tema gioviale (1953)
Fantasia sopra dodici note del ‘Don Giovanni’ di W.A. Mozart (1960)
La Fiera di Bari (1963)
La Strada suite (1966)
Due momenti (Divertimenti) musicali (1970)
Divertimento concertante (1968-73)
Castel del Monte (Ballata per corno e orchestra) (1974)
Guardando il Fujiyama (Pensiero per Hiroshima) (1976)

Small-scale Instrumental Music (Chamber Music, Piano Solo, etc.)

Invenzioni (string quartet) (1932)


Sonata in g major for viola and piano (1934-5)
Canzona (chamber orchestra) (1935)
Quintet (flute, oboe (violin), viola, violoncello, harp) (1935)
Sonata for violin and piano (1936-7)
Sonata for flute and harp (1937)
Piccola offerta musicale (wind quintet) (1943)

12
Intermezzo for viola and piano (1945)
Sonata for clarinet and piano (1945)
Sarabanda e Toccata (harp) (1945)
Improvviso in d minor for violin and piano (1947)
String Quartet (1948-54)
Elegia for oboe and piano (1955)
Trio for flute, violin (violoncello) and piano (1958)
Improvviso for violin and piano (1969)
5 Pezzi facili (flute and piano) (1972)
Love theme from The Godfather (harp) (1972)
Divertimento concertanto (1968-73)
3 Pezzi (flute) (1972-3)
Trio for clarinet, violoncello and piano (1973)
Nonet (wind quintet plus violin, viola, cello, bass) (1959, 1974-7)
Preludio (n.d.)
Ippolito gioca (1930)
Bagatella (1941)
Fantasia in Do (1944-5)
15 Preludio (1964)
7 Pezzi difficili per bambini (1971)
Due valzer sul nome di Bach: Circus-Waltz, Valzer-Carrillon (1975)

By observing this list of over 70 completed, publicly performed works,

one gains a sense of Rota’s accomplishments as a concert composer. That his

agents, colleagues and patrons were interested in his expressive music as not only

for movie theaters but also in concert halls, demonstrates his capabilities and the

fondness for his music in performance settings. It is suggested that emphasizing

Rota’s instrumental concerti for violoncello, horn, trombone, piano, harp and

13
bassoon will help expand the palette of concerto options for solo artists and

orchestras, and further reach audiences through recital performances with

reductions of the orchestral score for piano. Presenting Rota’s concert works,

such as the Concerto for bassoon and orchestra, is useful for connecting

audiences to Rota’s range of credibility as a composer.

14
SECTION TWO

An Analysis of Concerto for bassoon and orchestra

Introduction

Nino Rota’s compositional signatures within the Concerto for bassoon

and orchestra produce inspiring results. Through the following discussion,

Rota’s selection of thematic events, harmonic progressions and form are

examined in detail including detailed remarks regarding the tendencies of each

movement: Toccata, Recitativo and Andantino [Theme and Variations I-VI]. The

intention of this analysis is to highlight Rota’s charming character of melody that

is mixed with an adventurous harmonic language and tasteful orchestration.

The first movement, Toccata, resembles or is similar to a sonata form,

featuring two main themes, a harmonically-unstable developmental area, and a

return of those main themes in mostly original key centers. The second

movement, Recitativo, is similar to most middle concerto movements in that it

represents a more lyrical or vocal influence on instrumental music and it is less

traditional in that it pairs a cadenza with one brief, thematic idea that is repeated

and slightly embellished. The third and final movement is an Andantino [Theme

and Variations I-VI], bearing fixed characteristics of the main Andantino theme

and harmonic progression in each variation – earlier variations more so than later

variations. Each movement of this concerto is a testament to Rota’s creativity and

compositional capabilities with concerto form. The work meets fundamental

artistic expectations as far as Classical music has set forth, and deserves more

recognition for its merits than what it currently receives.

15
Before detailed discussion of each movement, it is important to summarize

Rota’s signature tendencies of the work. Regarding melody, Rota’s habits are

similar to those of Claude Debussy or Erik Satie in that the melodies bear cellular

construction over an even number of beats or measures, and are repeated.

Melodies often include imitation via textures of orchestra alone or via interplay

with bassoon soloist and orchestra. It is this author’s opinion that the melodies

used are fairly catchy and memorable, with a uniqueness generated by harmonic

language, which is what helps make this work so appealing and valuable. And

finally, an inherent chromatic progression either of melody or harmonic voicing

often occurs. If not obviously in the main melodic content or bass voices, it often

appears as middle-ground texture within the orchestral accompaniment.

Summarizing Rota’s harmony is less exact, in that the chords often

possess tones that blur the frame of typical triadic, closely-related key areas.

Rota’s chords possess upper tertian extensions, or rather additional diatonic tones

that heighten to uniqueness of his language. Most of the harmonic language

moves according to step, semitone or chromatic-mediant relationship, and help

drive the melodies to a peak or low point, depending on the dramatic intent of the

particular area of the form. There are a few occasions where Rota prepares the

classically-informed dominant-tonic relationship, but, due to the addition of chord

tones within his harmonic language, this author defines the harmonies as key

areas or pitch centers, highlighting a particular tonic through voice-leading and

mostly triadic chord structures.

16
Concerto for bassoon and orchestra, I. Toccata by Nino Rota

Thematic Areas and Tonal Centers Chart

17
Movement I: Toccata

Introduction

The form of the first movement of Concerto for bassoon and orchestra is

comprised of a sonata-related structure, including two principle themes appearing

over relatively stable key areas, a developmental area and a return of the initial

themes. These key areas relate to each other usually by chromatic mediant, such

as from B-flat major to G major. The motion of the bass voice is also important

in establishing key areas, guiding the ear toward the pitch center. Transitional

and developmental areas appear consistently between presentations of themes and

the roles of the transitional areas either increase or decrease the dramatic effect of

the form and melody. When the main thematic material recapitulates toward the

end of the movement in the same key of B-flat major, the formal display bears

credit to Rota’s ability to produce large form work in the sonata tradition.

Throughout the first movement, phrasing exhibits a two-part structure in

each theme that typically complements each other’s contour. These phrases are

catchy and memorable, much in the way of many Classical models of melody.

Within Toccata, they tend to overlap as the final notes of one phrase coincide

with the beginning of another phrase, motive or sequence, usually in imitative

gestures – a frequent Rota signature. Rota will occasionally include a link or

extension of the phrase, behaving as an imitative sequential transition propelling

interest forward through the form. To maintain interest, Rota uses imitation and

canon throughout areas that are developmental or transitional in the form. So his

use of imitation in sequence is frequent.

18
The harmony of the first movement of the Concerto contains light

chromaticism or dissonances, and tends to stray from closely-related key areas. In

general, however, Rota’s harmony remains mostly diatonic and mostly triadic.

Rota’s more adventurous chords contain upper tertian extensions or are often

inverted, allowing for a distinct step-wise or semitone motion in the bass. This is

another signature found throughout the entire piece. Other chord progressions

include secondary dominant functions but rarely stray so much that the harmony

becomes overly Romantic or Expressionist. When observing the rate of harmonic

rhythm, there are two tendencies: when a thematic statement is made, the

harmony is fairly static, changing with the start of the next phrase, and that when

thematic material appears in imitation and is sequenced, the harmonic rhythm is

much faster, changing with every beat or measure to emphasize the quick motivic

gestures. It should also be pointed out that in the first movement of the Concerto

for bassoon and orchestra is a progression by the interval of a third or

enharmonic third, such as by great composers’ extensive use of chromatic-

mediant relationships since Beethoven.

Opening & Theme I

The Toccata of Rota’s Concerto for bassoon and orchestra possesses two

main thematic areas, a developmental area and a return of the initial thematic

ideas. Theme I is grouped in two four-bar phrases in B-flat major. The theme

itself is a bouncing eighth-note line with staccato articulation. It repeats at the

interval of a perfect fourth before either climbing upward or downward

19
chromatically by sixteenth-notes to another group of eighth-note thirds or eighth-

note arpeggios. This basic structure of repeated eighth-notes followed by

sixteenth-note semitones, in turn followed by another group of repeated eighth-

notes, is the basis for each appearance or development of Theme I throughout the

movement. These eighth-note patterns are also in transitional and developmental

thematic areas. The phrases complement each other in shape only, as opposed to

the more conventional harmonic underpinning of tonic and dominant. The

harmonic activity that accompanies this theme is representative of the whole

movement by its chromatic-mediant relationship from B-flat major (mm. 5-7) to

D-flat major (mm. 8-11) and G major (m. 12), which is an interval of a third

below B-flat and which underpins the final note of the eight-bar phrase.

Figure 1 separates the opening theme into two parts, Part I (mm 5-8) and

Part II (mm. 9-12). This separation displays the different contour found in each

phrase. Parts I and II of Theme I consist of components featured in forthcoming

thematic areas. Throughout the movement, Theme I Parts I and II are used in

imitation (mm. 152-157 and mm. 240-252) for an increase in rhythmic and

dramatic energy. Rota’s harmonic language supports this energy by its semitone

passages, which help create a particularly expressive line.

20
Figure 1: Theme I: Parts I and II (mm. 5-12)

Transitional Areas I and II

Two brief thematic areas appear before Theme II: Transitional Area I and

II. Transitional Area I appears in three phrases: two six-measure (2 + 4)

sequences, followed by a third three-measure phrase of varied repetitions (mm.

33-47). These three phrases move upward by semitone from G major to A-flat

major to A major. The first component is a rhythmic fragment of Theme I: an

eighth-note followed by two sixteenth-notes and usually another eighth-note.

This rhythmic component is fragmented and repeated in mm. 33-34, 39-40 and

45-47. The other eight measures include bassoon solo starting with an arpeggio

that is a fragment of Theme II, where each four-note passage is connected by the
21
same arpeggio in inversion. The subsequent eighth-note passage work outlines

intervallic-thirds and semitones as highlighted from the chromatic sixteenth-notes

in both parts of Theme I.

Figure 2: Transitional Area I (mm. 33-39)

Transitional Area II appears in E-flat major, the chromatic-mediant of G

major and the initial key of Transitional Area I. The Transitional Area II Theme

(labeled in Figure 3, m. 50) appears in groups of five chromatic sixteenth-notes

that outline intervallic thirds ascending and descending in one measure (mm. 50-

52) with an extra or expressive, “odd” measure (mm. 53-54). This is emphasized

in the measures following the varied repeat overlapping and imitating while

modulating rhythmically to create lively texture and increase harmonic tension

(mm. 59-66). This area climaxes with two octaves of oscillation between A and

B-flat via tutti orchestra for five measures descending in register to the orchestral

bassoon, piano, viola and cello (m. 67). The oscillation lowers a semitone in m.

72 to alternate between A-flat and B-flat. The material then metrically modulates

providing transition and preparing the arrival of Theme II in m. 74.

22
Figure 3: Transitional Area II (mm. 50-59)

Theme II

Theme II appears in a minor mode, which is a result of the harmonic area

over which it plays. This second theme area shifts harmony every two measures

between g minor, G-flat major, g minor and a-flat minor (mm. 74-81). Rota

maintains the semitone behavior within the harmonic gesture, and the second

statement of Theme II appears in c-minor, which is a chromatic mediant of a-flat

minor.

The melodic arch of Theme II appears generally in descent in mm. 74-77,

which is inverted in the complementary four-bar phrase in mm. 78-81 (see Figure

4). Through this balanced melodic construction, Rota produces a chromatic

23
passage of four notes which outline the interval of a major or minor third and

appear at the beginning and end of each individual four-measure arch. This four-

note relationship is overlapped and sequenced in the complementing phrase of the

second appearance of Theme II in mm. 86-89 (and reminiscent of Transitional

Area II). Theme II is then passed around the orchestra via solo treble winds with

an off-beat eighth-note accompaniment, which, in this author’s interpretation, is a

metric modulation from the accompaniment in the first two presentations of

Theme II (mm. 74-89) to increase rhythmic interest. Within this area, Theme II is

then fragmented and variedly repeated in first flute and first violin (mm. 98-103),

continuously emphasizing the four-note, mostly chromatic passage that outlines

an interval of a third, or highlights the semi-tone/chromatic tendencies of the

movement and whole work.

Figure 4: Theme II (mm. 74-81)

Developmental Areas I and II

As with conventional sonata form, a developmental section typically

follows the presentation of two main themes, and Rota’s Toccata includes such an

area. Within the Development section, are two Areas of thematic material, herein

called Developmental Areas I and II.

24
This Development of Rota’s bassoon concerto includes two theme areas

which are drawn from Themes I and II, presented in motivic fragments creating

expressive gestures throughout. The first area in the Development,

Developmental Area I (D.A. I, mm. 104-127) is a combination of material from

Themes I and II. The first two measures of Theme I Part I appear. The second

measure is repeated twice, in sequence, creating a four-bar gesture over d minor

in the orchestral bassoon. The key center lowers a semitone to D-flat major over

a C pedal tone, with a similar treatment structuring Theme I Part II, with two

measures from the initial presentation followed by the sequence, only this time,

descending in the doubled horn part (mm. 104-111). These four-bar gestures

create opposing melodic arches occurring right after one another. Starting at m.

112, a four-measure phrase consisting of the Theme I Part II material precedes the

Theme I Part I material creating a melodic inversion between the orchestral

bassoon, piano and celli and the doubled horns. Another four-bar presentation of

the ascending sequenced material from Theme I Part I appears before a quote of

the opening four-bar solo phrase occurs in the celli and double bass in A-flat

major (mm. 120-127).

25
Figure 5: Developmental Area I (mm. 104-119)

Also of importance in Developmental Area I is the appearance of Theme

II material in augmentation. In this appearance, the theme is presented by the

treble clef winds and treble clef strings in octaves at a rate that is half as fast as its

first appearance in mm. 74-81. This event takes twice the number of measures

beginning in m. 104 and ending in m. 119 with a four-measure repeat of the

augmented Theme II. The texture combines with the melodic inversion of Theme

I Parts I and II to create a poignant expressive peak in the overall shape of the

movement.

26
A dramatic turning point occurs immediately following Developmental

Area I in Developmental Area II (D.A. II; mm. 132-139). This section includes

rhythmic material from Theme I Part I in the orchestral texture and melodic

material from Theme II in the bassoon solo. The inverted intervallic third – or

intervallic sixth frames the first melodic fragment from Theme I Part I, with its

characteristic rhythm (see Figure 6). This gesture is presented in hypnotic,

recurring imitation, starting with first clarinet, followed by first flute, first oboe

and finally piccolo (mm. 128-151). The first appearance of the triplet rhythm

made by the harp outlines the same intervallic pattern as the droplets of treble

wind gestures, but also adding to the hypnotic character by blurring the metric

subdivision. Four measures of soft dynamic texture introduce the next theme,

labeled “D.A. II Theme.” This theme is an inversion of the arpeggio in Theme II

which has been augmented at the same rate that the four-note chromatic, step-

wise motion from Theme II was augmented in D.A. I. Here, harmony results

from mode mixture (mm. 132-147). Four more measures of Theme II

augmentation appear in a C-sharp/D-flat harmonic ambiguity, which forms a

chromatic-mediant relationship between the preceding e minor and forthcoming

B-flat major harmony, pinned around a C-flat pedal-tone.

27
Figure 6: Developmental Area II (mm. 132-139)

Return of Themes (Developmental)/False Recapitulation

According to sonata form conventions, the initial themes must return.

Here, Rota repeats the opening thematic ideas in an expected location. Theme I

Part I and Theme I Part II occur in order and overlap with each other, but they

appear above a harmonically ambiguous B-flat major chord over a C-flat pedal

tone (mm. 152-157). Melodically-speaking, this is a clear return; however,

harmonically, it is more complicated, and does not return to the expected chord.

28
The other initial components of the form follow in order as they were first

introduced: Transitional Area I (mm. 164-179db), Transitional Area II (mm. 179-

207), Theme II (augmented) (mm. 207-231), but contain moments of bassoon solo

bravura and imitation that emphasize developmental treatment. Rather

interestingly, in m. 231, the opening finally recapitulates in its original form and

key area. Rota has created a false or inverted recapitulation, meaning he placed

the original repetition of Theme I after the elements that followed it in the

exposition or opening of the movement.

The expressive interest continues through the remainder of the

recapitulation. The presentation of mm. 33-73 occurring with mm. 74-81 (in

augmentation) behaves as a return and presents these transitional themes in

transposed key areas. T.A. II Theme appears in motivic inversion, starting first

with orchestral solo winds then answered by the bassoon solo (mm. 180-189).

The climactic half-step alternation from m. 67 appears and dissolves with a slight

delay into an augmented presentation of Theme II in m. 207. Here, Theme II is

augmented to twice the rhythmic value as its original presentation, providing a

mournful affect (mm. 207-214). Theme II appears next in the orchestral oboe,

followed by flute and violin (mm. 215-228), bearing aspects of mm. 90-103,

except for the difference in the bassoon solo at mm. 215-222, which includes a

string of sequenced triplet-eighth-notes in place of trills.

29
Figure 7: Theme II with Solo Bravura (mm. 215-223)

Theme I material returns in mm. 233-252, starting with the melody in a

lower octave of the bassoon register, almost exactly as its first appearance in mm.

5-11. This melody is then imitated between differing groups of orchestral voices.

The resulting imitative section from mm. 240-252 is the fastest rate of imitation,

appearing after two beats (or one measure’s worth) of material, creating a

dramatic peak just before the Coda. (The overlapping imitative themes use

material from both Theme I Part I and Theme I Part II.)

30
Coda/Closing

The Coda or Closing is a brief section including emphasis of intervallic-

third and semitone relationships as appears throughout the movement

(consequently remaining in subsequent movements), and including transitional

motives (arpeggio, repeated rhythmic patterns, semitone or intervallic-third

motion). These components are fragmented and varied similarly to previous

instances. The final ascending line by the bassoon solo is no less important. It,

too, outlines the intervallic-third and semitone relationship prevalent throughout

the movement, just before the final accented chords.

Figure 8: Coda (mm. 265-275)

31
Concerto for bassoon and orchestra, II. Recitativo by Nino Rota

Sections, Events and Tonal Centers Chart

32
Movement II: Recitativo (Figures 9-11)

Introduction

This Recitativo, reminiscent of forms such as the Baroque fantasia,

contains motivic gestures similar to early twentieth-century American Jazz and

Pop. This is a brief intermezzo nestled between the Toccata and the finale.

Within the second movement there are brief formal sections anchored around a

repeating theme that is somewhat chromatic and jazz-influenced, and arguably

memorable. Elements of jazz are suggested in Rota’s characteristic melodic

phrasing, much as in the cellular phrases of Claude Debussy or Erik Satie. Rota

emphasizes this melodic sequencing throughout the Concerto for bassoon and

orchestra.

The repetitions are decorated or embellished, adding an improvised quality

that is reminiscent of American blues and jazz. One is reminded of the music of

Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. In addition to referencing that American style, the

Baroque fantasia, such as those by G. P. Telemann, presents motives or shapes in

repetitions that are embellished or sequence through key areas, and are organized

freely in a through-composed manner, mimicking improvised music. Rota’s

Recitativo provides similar freedoms, though orchestrated for multiple players

with soloist. The principal Recitativo Theme follows a cadenza-like opening,

which contains melodic sequences, another of Rota’s signatures in this work. The

bassoon solo begins the cadenza-like section and is supported by an increasing

frequency of expressive chords provided by the orchestra, creating slight dramatic

flare as it proceeds along the melodic sequences.

33
Analysis of Recitativo

Introductory Cadenza

The opening sound is quiet and dark, from low BB-flat provided by

orchestral bass in m. 1 and bassoon solo in m. 2. The bassoon solo arpeggiated B-

flat major, peaking at the tonic pitch of f-sharp minor (enharmonic to bassoon’s

G-flat), which is the first chord provided by strings less double bass in m. 5. The

peak of the bassoon line lingers on G-flat4 before moving down a semitone to F4,

the dominant pitch from the opening B-flat major arpeggio, and precedes the

repeat of the opening orchestral bass and bassoon solo (mm. 7-8). Mm. 8-11

present the bassoon in a more active rhythmic pattern consisting of tones of the B-

flat major arpeggio and peaking this time on A-flat4 in m. 11, supported by an

inverted a-flat minor chord in flutes and clarinets. In this opening section, Rota

has essentially repeated the first six measures, creating a progressive phrase

interest by using more rhythmic energy and by changing the peak melodic and

harmonic impact in the fifth measure of the phrase. The only difference in which

is the link in mm. 12-14, completing the second phrase.

34
Figure 9: Introductory Cadenza (mm. 1-25)

The next area exemplifies the improvisatory characteristics of the melody,

as reminiscent of baroque fantasia or American jazz, and the following is a

detailed description. Recalling the semitone gesture in mm. 5-6, the peak A-flat4

relaxes downward a semitone to G4, which now acts as the fifth scale degree of c

major in mm. 12-13 and c minor in m. 14, implied by the sustained E-flat3 in the

bassoon solo line. Echoing the role of the orchestral winds in m. 11, the

orchestral strings produce an inverted a-flat minor chord in m. 15, initiating the

anacrusis in the bassoon solo line that leads to an area of the cadenza with

repeated gestures over a D3 pedal tone. The D3 pedal tone is repeated amid a set

of pitches that, when aligned in order, create unstable dominant-seventh chords,

increasing the expressive interest of the solo line. The bassoon line made from a

series of double-dotted eighth notes (mm. 17-19db) followed by thirty-second


35
notes, creating an urgent rhythmic line is repeated over m. 19 to m. 21, with

different rhythm and emphasizing a chromatic ascent (mirrored at the interval of a

perfect fourth in the flute I and violin I), all while repeating the d pedal tone. The

peak of the phrase occurs in m. 23, supported by an unstable seventh-chord (mm.

21-24), after which, finally the bassoon line stands alone, sustaining the tonic F-

sharp4 of the f-sharp half-diminished chord in inversion which began in m. 23.

This marks the end of the introductory, cadenza-like passage. The

opening consists of three separate areas of arpeggio gestures (mm. 1-11, 12-17db,

17-23), varied, and the second and third of which overlap (see mm. 11-12 and 16-

17). This event prepares the melancholy Recitativo Theme, which begins in m. 26

in violins I and II.

Recitativo Theme

Presented in two micro-phrases, the Theme of the Recitativo, common to

Rota’s melodies in this concerto, begins with a syncopated quarter-note to eighth-

note gesture, followed by a downward-moving semitone pair of eighth-notes

slurred into a half note (mm. 26-27). This downward-moving semitone becomes

an important element for later thematic development. The second half of Rota’s

Recitativo Theme occurs by repeating the first two notes of the Theme, now

decorated or embellished slightly and providing improvisatory character common

to the aforementioned American stylistic influence (mm. 28-29).

36
Figure 10a: Theme – Orchestra (mm. 26-29)

Following the Theme, the chromatic gesture is the basis for a melodic

sequence with a dramatic crescendo, setting the stage for the bassoon solo

entrance in m. 34. At this point, the bassoon makes the same statement of the

Theme as did the violins in mm. 26-29. In mm. 34-37, though, the Theme is

based in B-flat major rather than D major as before.

Figure 10b: Theme – Bassoon Solo (mm. 34-37)

The bassoon line weaves its way downward in mm. 38-40 (much as the

violins and flutes in mm. 30-33) to a sustained c-flat that then leads to another

statement of the Theme by first violins in mm. 41-45. Overlapping the Theme in

m. 45, the bassoon solo line begins a series of three ascending flourishes using

arpeggios from b minor, b minor dominant-seventh and d-flat half-diminished-

seventh chords and arriving on a high A-flat4 peak in m. 48, confirming the

37
emphasis of D-flat half-diminished-seventh chord through m. 51. The peak note

is emphasized in mm. 49-51 by brief chromatic passages in varying rhythms.

Closing

The bassoon solo presents the last complete statement of the short Theme

in mm. 52-55 without accompaniment, which is unlike any other area displaying

the Recitativo Theme. Material from the first measure of the Theme begins the

final phrase and melodic descent in m. 56, arriving at the opening low BB-flat,

and supported by an austere chord in the orchestral strings. Between the complete

lay-out of the Theme and the final BB-flat, the bassoon line repeats the sequence

as first presented by violins and flutes in mm. 31-32. Additionally, the harmonic

direction is rather apparent, moving chromatically upwards through G major, A-

flat major, extending A major in mm. 58-59, and arriving on a B-flat major

(lacking the third of the chord) in mm. 60-61, referring to the same double bass

and bassoon texture heard at the beginning. This chromatic slide in harmony

outlines the interval of a third – G to B-flat – a familiar chromatic-mediant

relationship, and proceeds upwards, opposing the contour of the bassoon solo line,

reminiscent of the first movement.

Figure 11: Closing (mm. 56-61)

38
39
Concerto for bassoon and orchestra, III. Theme (Andantino) and Variations I-
VI by Nino Rota

Theme and Variation Events and Tonal Centers Chart

40
Theme and Variation Events and Tonal Centers Chart (continued)

41
Movement III: Andantino [Theme & Variations I-VI] (Figures 12-18)

Introduction to Andantino

Finding a Theme and Variations form at the end of a multi-movement

work is typical in classical music, and Rota applies this formula to the Concerto

for bassoon and orchestra, with a theme (Andantino) followed by six variations

(all variations are in the style of classical or older dance forms: Waltz, Polka,

Siciliana, Sarabanda, Scherzo and Galop). Most of the varied melodies make

clear references to the traits of the Andantino theme. There are two variations

(Variation IV: Scherzo and V: Sarabanda) whose identities are not as obviously

related, but careful examination reveals the signature melodic phrase used in the

original Andantino theme (figure 12a). In this movement we may also observe

Rota’s dramatic sense (influenced by film music) heightened here through the

chosen theme and variation format, progressing into increasingly excited and

distant variations. Only the Sarabanda breaks this expectation, but purely as a

device to indicate the “calm before the storm” of the final Galop variation.

Andantino

The Andantino is a charming and lyrical melody, using Rota’s paired

phrase structures Rota continues to avoid overt dominant-tonic harmonic

relationships in the Andantino, and harmonies mostly follow the behavior of

previous movements – bass voices moving in mostly stepwise, semitone or

chromatic-mediant relationships. The Theme consists of two phrases, referred to

as Part I and Part II. Parts I and II maintain shape throughout Variations I-III

42
(Waltz, Polka, Siciliana). There is also a micro-division apparent within Part I

and II, which will later be referred to as Part Ia and Part Ib during Variations IV-

VI. Part II is not recycled in the same way as Part I, and is altogether missing

from Variations V and VI. Figure 12a displays the reduced score and indicates

when Theme Part I and Theme Part II occur.

Figure 12a: Theme – Andantino (mm. 32-48)

The first appearance of bassoon solo is similar to the opening (mm. 1-31).

From mm. 4-20db, Parts I and II of the Theme appear in order, and from mm. 20-

32db, Part II of the melody appears in the oboe, but is sequenced from oboe to

clarinet and finally to violins every two measures (mm. 222 -27). This sequence

extends Part II of the theme, which concludes with a rhythmic, classically-styled

43
turn on the leading tone to b-flat in mm. 29-30. The matter of extending material

of Theme II forms the basis by which Rota will develop melodic interplay and

expressive interest throughout the movement.

The bassoon solo enters with the Andantino theme in mm. 32-60,

replicating the orchestral display from mm. 4-32db. This display includes Theme

Part II in sequence (mm. 48-57) extending the phrase, via orchestral oboe and

bassoon solo. The bassoon solo then displays the first seven notes of the

Andantino (mm. 572 -59db), followed by a descending arpeggio, concluding the

Andantino as a “tag” that returns in subsequent Variations I-III, and V-VI, and

always reinforces the B-flat tonal center.

Figure 12b: Thematic Sequencing and Theme (mm. 48-60)

44
Variation I: Valzer (Waltz)

Variation I of Rota’s Andantino is in the style of a playful waltz. Winds

and strings produce a light-hearted waltz character in mm. 61-65db, preparing for

the bassoon soloist’s entrance in m. 65. As represented by Figure 13a, this

variation of the Andantino theme fits the original structure, including a short

anacrusis and Theme Parts I and II. The three-note anacrusis of the Theme is

expanded into a five-note arpeggio to fulfill the additional beat subdivisions found

in the waltz meter (see mm. 65, 69 and 73). To satisfy the difference between the

simple duple meter of the Andantino and the simple triple meter of the waltz style,

45
Rota chooses to present a rhythmic hemiola of rotating semitones, emphasizing a

non-chord tone on principal beat subdivisions of the meter, acting as a leading

tone to the original pitch from the Theme. This hemiola rhythm enhances the

playful character of the movement, tricking the listener by shifting beat emphases.

Figure 13a: Variation I: Waltz (mm. 65-81)

46
Increasing the light-hearted or playful character, Rota then embellishes the

rhythm of the triple meter waltz by adjusting quarter-notes to eighth-notes.

Figure13b displays this eighth-note embellishment in bassoon solo, which, like

the formal structure of the opening of the movement, follows the first violins.

The embellishment also emphasizes the leading and tonic chord tones, as in

previous instances, displaying a clear connection to the melodic format of the

Theme.

Figure 13b: Variation I: Embellished Waltz Theme (mm. 89-98)

47
Variation II: Polka

Festively, the bassoon solo begins Variation II: Polka with a four-bar

polka-style “oom-pah” bass line supported by orchestral bassoon and horns. This

sets the stage for the playful variation of the Andantino Theme that strikingly

resembles Theme I from the Toccata movement of the concerto. Variation II

follows the same two-part melodic structure as in the Andantino and Variation I:

Waltz, including the short anacrusis, Part I and Part II. The contour of the melody

appears differently, however, than the contour of the original Andantino. Mm.

129-137 resembles the Theme Part II, except the final note of the phrase settles a

half step lower than expected. This half-step difference in the violin and flute

melody, another trait maintained through many of the Variations, is quite

expressive, and is emphasized by semitone accentuations and suddenly thicker

textures (mm. 136-137).

48
The bassoon solo enters in m. 137 using the same three-note anacrusis

arpeggio as found in the Theme and Variation I: Waltz. Instead of an oscillation

between leading and chord tones, Rota uses the semitones below and above to

emphasize chord tones of the original Theme melody in the first two measures of

Parts Ia and b (see mm. 138-139, 142-143, 146-147, etc.). Also of interest is the

final micro phrase of Part II, mm. 1492-153, where the bassoon solo suddenly

descends producing the phrase in its lower, boisterous register.

Figure 14: Variation II: Polka (mm. 137-153)

49
Variation II: Polka continues with melodic sequences in Rota’s signature

style, using segments of thematic material. The interplay found in previous

sections of the movement between bassoon solo and treble instruments (oboes,

flutes, piccolo and celesta) continues, first with orchestral oboe (m. 1532) and then

joined by bassoon solo (m. 157). Within these sequences, orchestral oboe

emphasizes an upward motion via semitones, and the bassoon solo pours

downwards by semitones, creating a spreading contour between both voices. The

role of the oboe is replaced by flute, piccolo and celesta in m. 161 and joined by

bassoon solo in m. 165, repeating their opposing contours as before, to a peak

expression in m. 177. To conclude the variation, the bassoon solo follows this

climax with a single phrase of the polka-styled theme, accented by a very quick

orchestral sweep, like a unison shout of “Hey!” at the end of the dance.

Variation III: Siciliana

Typical of many variation forms, the Theme is adjusted or changed to a

different mode, presenting a great deal more expressive options for the composer.

To this degree, Nino Rota uses the minor mode of b-flat within Variation III:

Siciliana. The variation uses the slow compound duple meter characteristic of the

siciliana as codified in eighteenth century music. The characteristic siciliana

rhythm of dotted-eighth-note, sixteenth-note, eighth-note mingles with the

melancholy minor mode. Rota takes care to present the Andantino Theme in the

same structure as before: in two parts, beginning with a brief, step-wise anacrusis,

as opposed to previous three-note arpeggios found in the Theme, Variation I:

50
Waltz and Variation II: Polka. The phrase structure displays Part I in mm. 1802-

184db and Part II in mm. 1842-188 sounded by bassoon solo with muted, pensive

string accompaniment. This is unique when compared to previous displays of the

Theme, which are traditionally introduced by treble instruments (violin and flute).

Figure 15: Variation III: Siciliana (mm. 180-188)

Treble instruments such as clarinet and violin join the bassoon and begin

the typical Rota-styled interplay following the main display of the variation.

Clarinet and first violins each play Parts Ia and b, while bassoon completes Part II

of the phrase (mm. 1882-196db). Following in m. 197, violins begin thematic

material from Part II while the clarinets produce an interesting counter-melody

that lasts until m. 200, where the melodic material is switched to orchestral flute

and oboe completing Part II. In similar fashion, bassoon solo repeats Part II of

the Theme in m. 2012, which starts a melodic sequence between bassoon solo and

51
clarinet, then between bassoon solo and first flute and oboe, releasing after a

decrescendo to pianissimo. In a lento tempo, bassoon solo accompanied by high

string accompaniment completes the variation with Part I of the siciliana theme.

Variation IV: Scherzo

The Scherzo variation reverses the role of the bassoon solo back to

portraying a bass role (such as the “oom-pah” of the bassoon solo in the beginning

of the Polka) and also draws rhythmic motives from the first movement of the

concerto. The bassoon solo opens with a downward-moving chromatic gesture

arriving at the tonic pitch of B-flat, providing a bass role. This act leaves space

for the oboe and clarinet to portray Part I of the Theme in a silly chromatic

descent, based off the original Andantino phrase structure (Theme Part Ia and Ib).

That the treble winds first display the Theme is also typical of Rota’s melodic

structuring in this work, and expressively humorous when juxtaposed to the static

sustained tone of the bassoon solo. Pursuant of the traditional scherzo (meaning

“joke” in Italian, coming from the German scherz or scherzen meaning “to joke”),

Rota portrays well the comedy of this style.

Repeating the anacrusis gesture in m. 218, the bassoon solo settles again

on B-flat. Once there, harp and flute enhance the repeated thematic elements

portrayed by the oboe in a downward chromatic scale. Rota’s signature melodic

sequencing begins in m. 2203 between orchestral violin with oboe and bassoon

solo, proceeding until bassoon solo extends its chromatic gesture upward, driving

the phrase to an arrival on the b-flat in m. 226.

52
Figure 16: Variation IV: Scherzo (missing Theme Part II) (mm. 210-226)

Dove-tailing excitedly into the next segment, the orchestra strikes punchy,

eighth-note accentuations in dance-like fashion, while the chromatic Scherzo

melody courses out among orchestral flutes, clarinets and trumpet, at a dynamic

of forte. This is another well-placed instance of humor played by Rota, harkening

back to composers like Stamitz, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, surprising

listeners with sudden dynamic shifts. This excitement shifts into a melodic

sequence with the return of bassoon solo in m. 233, creating what would be a

53
third sequence phrase except that the chromatic line proceeds upward, rather than

down, and the accompanying orchestration is considerably lighter.

The lighter orchestration gives way to melodic sequence, using motives

from the Scherzo, and rotating between treble winds and bassoon solo. The

bassoon solo rounds out the phrase with a downward-falling scale to a dramatic

low D-flat in m. 241, triggering motives beginning like the Scherzo Theme but

with a wider leap. This treatment is developmental to a degree, but does not

explore enough key areas to merit the traditional definition of the term. What is

more noteworthy in this case is the signature phrase structuring of Rota, which

again is paired in melodic sequences (see mm. 243-244, 245-246 between piano

right-hand, clarinet and violin I and bassoon solo). Another game of imitative tag

occurs in mm. 247-249 between multiple treble voices and bassoon solo, until the

bassoon solo escapes in m. 250, free of accompaniment. Like the rhythm of the

Scherzo opening, bassoon solo sustains a pitch (this time the leading tone of ai in

the highest bassoon register) while the orchestra presents a diminishing Scherzo

Theme. Finally, all voices arrive at B-flat, taking on a different role than in

previous examples. Rota leaves listeners with a disappearing effect, certainly

capricious as the Scherzo suggests, however, at the very end he creates a mood of

suspense, as seen in the inverted B major major-seventh chord sustained by the

winds in m. 256 and overlapping into the next variation.

Variation V: Sarabanda

54
The Sarabanda (Italian) or Sarabande (French, German) is a traditional

dance movement found in countless Baroque suites of the seventeenth century,

developing from vocal and instrumental dance music. The Baroque Sarabanda

was in a slow triple meter, with repetitious rhythmic patterns. Taking up a mere

four pages of manuscript in the full score, Rota’s Sarabanda Variation departs the

farthest from the original Andantino melody, and is the most eccentric of these

dance variations.

This variation begins after a colorful chord held over from the end of the

Scherzo with a delicate flute arpeggio, joined by strings and harp. The bassoon

solo enters amid this hazy texture using the three-note anacrusis from the

Andantino theme, still maintaining the same melodic structure. In particular, the

bassoon solo in mm. 258-260 reflects mm. 4 and 8 from the Andantino. Another

pair of gestures similar to this appears in mm. 261-263, but behaves more as a

sequenced phrase or varied repeat than Part II of the Theme. This change

provides the sense of emptiness, enhancing the variety of previous variations,

creating distance from the original Andantino characteristics.

Figure 17a: Variation V: Sarabanda (mm. 257-263)

55
These events are then repeated in Rota’s signature style. This time, score

markings of piano dolcissimo lead the orchestral celli as they relay the Sarabanda

Theme (mm. 264-269). As this section transitions by way of the clarinet in m.

269, the bassoon solo returns with the familiar inverted three-note arpeggio,

repeating the patterns figured by the eerie flute and clarinet sixteenth-note

passages in mm. 2693-274. The bassoon solo now combines this sixteenth-note

passagework with the vocal sustain of the Sarabanda Theme, concluding with a

restatement of the melody from mm. 258-260. Along with the final statement of

the variation theme, the phrase contains a mysterious echo of the eerie flute, now

in the muted solo violin, providing an unsettling suspense such as the calm before

a storm.

Figure 17b: Variation V: Sarabanda Continued (mm. 269-276)

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Variation VI: Galop

The Galop – often called “quick polka” – is German in origin and related

to the polka. As popular as the quadrille, waltz and polka in the early-twentieth

century, this couples’ dance in 2/4 is simple in step and rather invigorating in

execution. It is the basis of style formulating the exciting finale to this series of

dance-inspired variations.

The Galop Variation begins with a ‘crack-of-the-whip,’ an accent in the

orchestral winds, strings and piano, that leads the piano and double bass into a

marching pulse on the tonic that has been shared by all the variations except

Variation V: Sarabanda. Bassoon solo enters first with the Galop Theme, bearing

attributes of the Andantino Theme and scherzo variation, since which is now

truncated, omitting Theme Part II. From mm. 278-287, bassoon solo unveils the

varied Theme Parts Ia and b, echoed by viola at an interval of a minor 9th in m.

2824. As the orchestral viola plays, bassoon solo lingers on a G-flat, delaying a

chromatic descent to low BB-flat by quarter notes and eighth notes in mm. 285-

286. This gesture is an example of Rota’s departure from the original Andantino

Theme Part II, creating playful interest for the listener while reinforcing the

presence of chromatic descents such as examples in the Theme, Variations II and

Variation IV.

Figure 18a: Variation VI: Galop (mm. 278-287)

57
Following the initial interplay of the bassoon solo and viola, oboe presents

Theme Part Ia before a melodic sequence with viola in mm. 289-291. The final

measure of Theme Ia repeats over a crescendo shifting to a dramatic transitional

area (mm. 291-292). Rota introduces a new rhythmic idea labeled “Galop

Transitional Area” which is sequenced in a pyramid-type texture and dynamic

(mm. 293-296db), just before the bassoon solo returns.

Figure 18b: Variation VI: Galop (Transitional Area) (mm. 293-296)

58
The following area (mm. 292-333) is a good example of extending the

form of the Galop to more dramatic proportions. It is virtually a repeat of the

opening material from mm. 278 through 296db transposed up a semitone from B-

flat to B at first in mm. 296-304, changing to E in mm. 305-310. Shifting

downward to E-flat in mm. 311-313 drives the harmony to a center of A-flat in m.

314, the end of the repeated section and the beginning of a new section that

behaves a bit like a classically-oriented development by stating motivic fragments

of thematic material in relatively unstable key areas. In other words, portions of

main and transitional thematic areas are broken down into motives and sequenced

or varied around changing pitch centers.

The bassoon solo begins with the traditional three-note arpeggio anacrusis

in m. 314, but now inverted, then plays through Part Ia of the Theme before

clarinet and viola repeats this same gesture beginning in m. 3164 as the viola did

before in m. 282. From m. 3184 to m. 321db bassoon solo is sequenced by flute

and piccolo playing Part Ia of the Galop Variation with the descending three-note

arpeggio. This is interrupted in mm. 321-327 by accented brass, oboe and

clarinet, all using either the entire Transitional Area motive, or the triplet-eighth-

note-to-eighth-note portion. Now developing the opening three-note arpeggio,

Rota writes a brief episode in melodic sequence from mm. 328-333db.

In the next section, Rota features the bassoon as he did in the first

movement, Toccata, where he wrote episodes of bravura passagework and

employed challenging tonguing requirements for the bassoon soloist. Starting in

m. 333, the three-note arpeggio appears as if the Andantino variations do,

59
however, the Galop Theme is presented not by the bassoon solo, but instead by

flute, piccolo, celesta and violins, and in a texture that resembles the original

variation via the chromatic descent. Both Parts Ia and Ib are unveiled by the

orchestral accompaniment while the bassoon soloist is charged with rapid

tonguing of triplet-eighth-notes through several continuous beats. This area

concludes with a short melodic sequence and repetitions (mm. 340-344), as the

bassoon solo climbs upward to high b-flati, the peak of this episode.

Figure 18c: Variation VI: Galop (Embellished/Bravura) (mm. 233-244)

As mentioned, following this area of bravura is a repetition of the triplet-

eighth-note-to-eighth-note motive of the Galop Transitional Area Theme

cascading downward through orchestral piccolo, oboe, clarinet and double bass,

cueing a new area of thematic material and accompaniment. Figure 18d displays

a reduction of mm. 348-362, where bassoon solo plays another bravura gesture
60
based on the Andantino Theme containing Parts Ia and Ib (mm. 348-355db).

Starting within m. 355, the events appear in typical Rota style, first with

components of the Theme sequencing in the bassoon solo (mm. 3554-3593).

While the string choir and piano remain playing an offbeat-accented pattern, the

orchestral woodwinds sprinkle gestures throughout, first with sparse interjections

and then by a drawn out chromatic passage (mm. 355-361). The bassoon solo

completes the bravura section by fragmenting arpeggios from previous measures,

moving chromatically upwards from G major to B-flat major in mm. 360-362db, a

harmonic shift of a chromatic mediant, which is all too familiar by this point in

the piece.

Figure 18d: Variation VI: Galop (Embellished/Bravura) (mm. 348-362)

61
Rota continues with another section of familiar material from the

Transitional Area. Full orchestral texture from mm. 362-365db boasts the

Transitional Area material connecting directly to a series of melodic sequences

using material from Theme Parts Ia and Ib in violins, first flute, oboe and clarinet.

This occurs until m. 3703, where the orchestration makes a dramatic shift to

whispering strings and piano only. Another bassoon solo bravura gesture forms a

62
call-and-response with first flute and clarinet, providing melodic interest in mm.

371-378, reinforcing Rota’s chromatic tendencies.

Figure 18e: Variation VI: Galop (Embellished/Bravura) (mm. 371-275)

The bassoon solo then completes a series of repetitions and sequences

continuing the interplay between it and treble orchestral winds. Also exciting are

dynamic swells that Rota repeats every two measures starting in m. 381, and

climaxing in m. 388. Here, Transitional Area material is presented at a fortissimo

dynamic, and followed by a diminution of sorts, changing the quarter-note rhythm

to eighth-notes and reducing the triplet-eighth-note to eighth-note figure to a

single quarter note value in m. 390, and reduced again to two eighth-notes in m.

391. This increases climactic tension to a breaking point, and Rota suddenly

drops the texture to a flurry of trilling and tremolos in the winds and strings in

mm. 392-393. After an accented halt from the orchestra, the bassoon solo plays

its final dancing gesture, using the triplet-eighth-note-to-eighth-note figure from

the Transitional Area, answered by the orchestra for one more instance of the

rhythm before an accented final note concludes the concerto.

Conclusion

63
The purpose of this analysis was to highlight the expressive charm and

accessibility of this concerto in the bassoon repertoire. Nino Rota is a composer

deserving high regard, and this discussion intends to introduce some of his

abilities through examination of his compositional signatures in the Concerto for

bassoon and orchestra. Through emphasizing the Concerto’s structural and

melodic aspects, it is my hope that bassoonists and conductors may be afforded

insights into the piece that will guide their own performance, and perhaps be

impetus for further involvement in Rota’s concert works. This analysis

demonstrates Nino Rota’s signature style like that of a lyrical composer who

makes effective use of melodic ideas, creative yet relatively familiar harmonic

language, and of delightful interplay between the bassoon soloist and varying

textures of the orchestration. Rota is effective in referencing melodic motives and

repeating transitional areas to call attention to new melodic events in the musical

narrative, adhering throughout to recognizable elements, making clear his unique

style. His entire output, both film and art music, place Rota, in this author’s view,

in that category of composers whose work is unfortunately overlooked, and

worthy of critical attention.

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APPENDIX A

LETTER OF COPYRIGHT PERMISSION FROM CARL FISCHER, LLC

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